Friday, October 10, 2008

Briefly: Bush, Obama on Armenia independence, U.S. to "Georgia and the region," State Dept. on Genocide and anti-Armenian attacks in Azerbaijan

First published in September 27, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan and Lusine Sarkisyan

Bush, Obama send messages on Armenian Independence Day

President George W. Bush sent a private message to congratulate President Serge Sargsian on Armenian Independence Day.

The letter was transmitted to Mr. Sargsian by Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as she handed her letter of credence to the Armenian president on September 22, the president’s office reported without publicizing the content of the message, which is the first known direct communication from Mr. Bush to Mr. Sargsian since the latter took office in April.

Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama issued a public message on September 21, Armenian Independence Day, noting that “throughout their long history, a spirit of independence, self-reliance, and survival defines the Armenian people... Even in the face of genocide, the pain of the past has not defeated the Armenians, either in Armenia or the far-flung diaspora.”

Pointing to the Georgia crisis, Mr. Obama said it “shows the danger that lurks when rising tensions are ignored and the United States pursues a diplomatic strategy of neglect.” At the same time, he welcomed the “hopeful step – taken by the Presidents of Turkey and Armenia – to restart dialogue.”

The full text of the statement by Mr. Obama appears at

Congress to appropriate $365 million in aid for “Georgia and the region”

According to the text of proposed legislation made available by Rep. David Obey (D.-Wis.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee on September 23, “$365,000,000 shall be made available for assistance for Georgia and the region for humanitarian and economic relief, reconstruction, energy-related programs and democracy activities.”

The extra aid proposed is six times the amount Georgia was slated to receive before the August war with Russia, but less than the $570 million initially requested by
the Bush administration.

The proposal would also safeguard foreign aid already earmarked, such as that to Armenia, from being “reprogrammed for assistance for Georgia.”

But the draft legislation apparently leaves it to the administration’s discretion whether assistance to “the region” actually means providing part of the $365 million to other countries in the region.

On September 19, twenty members of Congress joined Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and George Radanovich (R.-Calif.) in writing to Mr. Bush with a request for proportional funding to Georgia’s Armenian-populated districts as well as additional aid to Armenia to offset the losses its economy suffered as a result of Russian-Georgian fighting last month.

The issue was raised earlier by Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.), with Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried promising to look into the concerns.

Senators question nominee for U.S. ambassador to Turkey on Armenia policy

Senators John Kerry (D.-Mass.) and Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.) questioned President Bush’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey in a hearing on September 24.

Ambassador-designate James Jeffrey, who previously served in the U.S. diplomatic mission in Turkey on three separate occasions and is currently Mr. Bush’s deputy national security advisor, called Turkey a “key friend and strategic partner of the United States” on a range of issues, although he acknowledged “occasional differences” over Iraq and Iran.

Mr. Jeffrey also “strongly urge[d] Turkey to work with Armenia to reestablish diplomatic relations and to have an open and honest dialogue about the tragic events at the end of the Ottoman Empire.”

Mr. Kerry wondered if that meant the United States is “supportive of the historical commission itself” as proposed by the Turkish government.

Mr. Jeffrey responded that the United States supports “anything that the two sides agree on and as part of the process there should be a full and open review of events of that time... providing it’s mutually agreed on.”

Mr. Menendez said he was “dismayed” by Mr. Jeffrey’s remarks, arguing they were at variance with the administration’s position as expressed during Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s confirmation process earlier this year.

“The Administration in their letter said ‘our goal is not to open a debate whether the Ottomans have committed these horrendous acts, it is to help preserve the documentation that supports the truth of those events,’ Sen. Menendez stressed.

Mr. Jeffrey disagreed that he was diverging from the U.S. position as articulated by Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Reynolds in July 2008.

In the days prior to the hearing, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) contacted committee members urging them to scrutinize the administration’s nominee on “failings in U.S.-Turkey policy” ranging from disagreements over Iraq to the Administration’s opposition to congressional legislation affirming the Armenian Genocide that was debated last year.

According to the ANCA, the “sad public spectacle” of lobbying against the Genocide resolution was accompanied by “the decision of the President to send two of his Administration’s senior officials, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman and Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, to Ankara to
personally apologize for America for the House Foreign Affair Committee’s approval of this human rights legislation” on the Genocide in October 2007.

State Department report again ignores Azerbaijan’s anti- Armenian policies

Remnants of Baku's Armenian cemetery as of Sept. 2007“The International Religious Freedom Report 2008,” a congressionally mandated State Department report released on September 19 focused – as similar reports have done in years past – on restrictions and harassment faced by missionary groups, particularly Jehovah’s Witnesses, while ignoring continuing anti-Armenian rhetoric and actions in Azerbaijan. The reports are compiled primarily by in-country U.S. Embassy staff.

The report also listed, in minute detail, the few instances in which anti-Semitic comments were employed by pro-government media in their attacks on the opposition in the pre- and post-election period (while ignoring equally xenophobic although not anti-Semitic attacks).

The report did note that Armenia is “a country traditionally known for its welcoming attitude toward Jews.”

While reporting that “on December 17, 2007, Jewish community members discovered a small swastika drawn on the Hebrew side of the 14-month-old Joint Tragedies Memorial,” the report misses the state-organized destruction of Armenian monuments and cemeteries throughout Azerbaijan, including the widely publicized case in central
Baku (see the September 15, 2007, edition of the Armenian Reporter).

Also ignored are a slew of Armenophobic comments by Azerbaijani leaders, such as those by country’s formal Muslim leader Allahshukur Pashazade who told a visiting Jewish American rabbi that “falsehood and treason run through Armenians’ blood” (see this page in the July 26 edition of the Armenian Reporter).

In a correction, the report no longer refers to Nagorno-Karabakh as an “occupied region” (see this page in the September 22, 2007, edition of the Armenian Reporter). Instead it mentions an “unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh” and “those areas of [Azerbaijan] controlled by ethnic Armenian separatists,” while rehashing baseless claims and figures used by the Azerbaijani government.

Not much change in “corruption perception”

The Corruption Perception Index (CPI), the informal rival of the World Bank’s Doing Business report, which measures business regulation (see this page in the September 20 edition of the Armenian Reporter), was released by the Berlin-based Transparency International on September 23. Both reports count towards Armenia’s continued eligibility for the U.S. aid under Millennium Challenge program.

This year’s CPI for Armenia was 2.9 of out of 10 possible points – the same rating it had in 2005–2006, but slightly worse than 3.0 in 2007 and 3.1 in 2004. The decline placed Armenia 109th of 180 nations on par with Argentina and Moldova.

Transparency studies in Armenia are conducted by the Center for Regional Development, a Yerevan-based Transparency International affiliate (

Meanwhile, other Transparency affiliates found improvements in Georgia, placing it in 67th place, up from 79th, and regression in Azerbaijan, placed 158th, down from the 150th position in 2007.

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